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‘It’s a process’: How Jay Hill turned Weber State’s football program into an FCS power

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Weber State head coach Jay Hill rallies his team prior to kickoff against Nevada in an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

AP

OGDEN — As the sun set on Wednesday’s practice for the No. 3-ranked Weber State Wildcats, head coach Jay Hill seemed calm and composed as he discussed Saturday’s game at No. 4/5 Montana.

A Big Sky Conference showdown between two of the top programs in the Football Championship Subdivision has become business as usual for Hill, who has elevated Weber State (8-2, 6-0) to its current heights in rapid and dramatic fashion. 

The Wildcats are nearing the end of their 100th year playing football. They’ve posted five straight winning seasons, and the last two campaigns have been particularly exciting for the program as Weber State has cemented itself as one of the top teams in the FCS.

Prior to Hill’s arrival in 2014, Weber State had only made the FCS playoffs four times in its history. Now, a fourth consecutive appearance in the postseason is all but a certainty.

“Well, it’s a process. You don’t go from where we were to where we are now overnight. It was a process and it was getting the right coaches in place, the right players in place. It was getting everybody, the coaches, the players, to buy into the program.” — Weber State coach Jay Hill

Stewart Stadium, which underwent dramatic improvements and renovations prior to the 2019 season, will more than likely host a playoff game on Nov. 30.

While the Wildcats’ recent success could be called meteoric, for Hill, it’s been more methodical than anything else. Things started a bit slowly as his tenure began in Ogden. His Wildcats went 2-10 that first season, followed by 6-5 and 7-5 seasons. The breakthrough came in 2017, when they went 11-3 and won the Big Sky Conference championship. Hill’s crew repeated as conference champs in 2018 with a 10-3 mark. 

“Well, it’s a process,” said Hill. “You don’t go from where we were to where we are now overnight. It was a process and it was getting the right coaches in place, the right players in place. It was getting everybody, the coaches, the players, to buy into the program.”

Hill acknowledged that early during his time as head coach, there were growing pains. But this season, it could be argued, the Wildcats are fielding their best team ever, just in time for the centennial celebration. Had it not been for narrow, six-point losses to FBS opponents San Diego State and Nevada, Weber State would be entering the Montana game with a perfect 10-0 record. 

What makes the Wildcats so good? The answer could be simple: more and more talented players.

“Recruiting is everything, at every program,” said Hill. “It’s the lifeblood, if you don’t have good players, you’re not going to win. Great coaches lose with bad players.”

Before he ascended to the top job at Weber State, Hill had established a reputation as one of the leading recruiters in the nation as an assistant at Utah. Working with the Utes’ special teams, Hill’s kicking and punting units were devastatingly effective, led by a slew of All-American kickers and punters headlined by Louie Sakoda and Tom Hackett. A two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s top punter, Hackett has repeatedly cited Hill as the biggest reason he suited up with the Utes. 

At Weber State, Hill has continued to flex his recruiting muscle by signing some of the Beehive State’s best. His marquee signing might be running back Josh Davis. During his days at Alta High, Davis was one of the state’s elite players, earning multiple player of the year awards as a senior. He was headed to play college ball at the Air Force Academy before switching his commitment to Weber State on national signing day.  

Just before he signed the dotted line, Davis received a text message from a Weber State assistant coach that spelled out the pros and cons of his upcoming decision. The rest is history. Davis signed with Weber State and went on to have an incredible first full season in 2018. Among his many accolades was the Jerry Rice Award, given to the nation’s top freshman.

Like his head coach, Davis seems sure and steady heading into Weber State’s biggest conference game of the season.

“I think it’s the same mindset every week,” said Davis. “We gotta come out and hit them in the mouth.”

Wildcats on the air

No. 3 Weber State (8-2, 6-0) at No. 4/5 Montana (8-2, 5-1) 

Washington-Grizzly Stadium — Missoula, Montana

Saturday, 1:10 p.m.

TV: Root Sports Northwest, AT&T SportsNet

Radio: KLO 1430 AM